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Home Grown: High Country Arts

Owners: Don and Linda Burda

Ages: 54 and 55

Address: 20979 Highway 62, Shady Cove

Phone number: (541) 878-4006

Number of employees: Six

Web site: highcountryarts.com

E-mail: hcarts1@earthlink.net

EDITOR'S NOTE:

This is one in a weekly series of profiles on locally owned and operated businesses in Southern Oregon.

What do you do and how long have you been doing it?

We manufacture a lot of different products out of elk, deer and moose antlers and fallow deer and red stag antlers from Europe, Australia and New Zealand. We're licensed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to buy antlers for craft purposes. We also have hickory twigs and poles with bark still on it shipped in from Tennessee.

Our primary business is supplying other retailers, catalog companies, furniture stores, gift and souvenir stores, such as Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. I started in 1973, selling at a craft faire in Ashland. My first retailer that handled any of my product was a jewelry store in Sun Valley, Idaho. I was involved in Western art shows at the time and adopted the business name in 1983.

How long have you lived in the Rogue Valley?

I graduated from Medford High in 1969 and moved to Wyoming in the mid-1970s and came back in January of 1979.

What inspired you to go into this line of work?

I went to college at Southern Oregon (University) and worked for the Bureau of Land Management as a surveyor during the summer. I came across a lot of shed antlers and packed them out. At the same time I was studying archeology and got an interest in flintknapping, which is chipping arrow heads. I started using the antlers to do that work and thought there were other things I could do with it. I started making necklaces with it. Some people opened a consignment store in Ashland in 1973, and I was surprised anybody wanted those kind of things.

When I moved to Wyoming my summer job became a 10-year career with U.S. forest service and private surveyors. When I got to Wyoming, the state was going through a big boom, drilling for oil, mining for coal and uranium. A lot of people came from around the country to get jobs. They liked my buckles and stores wanted to buy them. I quit my surveying job and western-wear stores were buying everything I could make. The winters weren't very pleasant there, so I decided to move back to Oregon.

What decision or action would you change if you could do it again?

I would have taken more business classes in college.

What's the toughest business decision you've made?

Before 9/11 we did a lot more traveling to trade shows around the United States. We had a showroom at the merchant marts in Chicago, High Point, N.C., Atlanta, Dallas, Kansas City, Denver and Minneapolis. They're not open to the general public, but that's how we get known throughout the country. After 9/11 occurred, people quit traveling like they had in the past, whether for fear or a cutback in expenses, we had to make choices to stay in some of the markets. We pulled out from quite a few of them, because there were fewer buyers in attendance.

We're still in Atlanta, Denver, Dallas and Minneapolis. Part of the reason the attendance has gone down at the shows is because of competition from big box stores.

Who are your competitors?

We don't have a huge amount of competitors doing the utensils we do ' steak knives, flatware, serving utensils and carving sets with antler handles and hickory. In the other spectrum we do, antler lighting, fixtures and mirrors, they're in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. It's hard to say, but there are probably a dozen strong companies and other people working out of their garage or back of their pick-ups making chandeliers.

How do you define success for your business?

It's been a constant challenge coming up with new ideas. It surprises me when we can still come up with something new. Buyers ask what's new and some years we hold back on new things so that we can have something new the next year. Sometimes we wondered how we could ever fill orders. We did a thousand baskets with kindling in them for L.L. Bean one year. I hired a lot of high school kids to split the kindling that year.

We're living in a world where everything is made in China, it's amazing we're still here. We've had some of the customers say they want the look, but don't want to pay the price for the real thing. Some of our customers have a difficult time stocking shelves because they don't want to buy anything made in China.

What are your goals?

I want to develop our Web site to where it works more smoothly and cut back on the travel we have done in the past because it's a major expense. The companies we deal with know who we are, so we don't need to travel as much as we used to. We used to be gone from January to mid-April and then go again in July, September and October. This year, so far, we've been gone three weeks.

What training or education did you need?

I took some silversmithing when I was primarily doing jewelry. I've tried to find blacksmiths, woodworkers and others with skills I needed. We have other artisans hand-make items that go into our products.

What's your advice for budding entrepreneurs?

Pursue their dreams and go for it. For me, it was the adventure and excitement of landing a big company to carry the product we made. Sometimes, it seemed like magic, but we spent the money to go to the shows and invested the time.

Home Grown: High Country Arts "business@mailtribune.com

Don Burda and his wife, Linda, own High Country Arts in Shady Cove, turning antlers into souvenirs, decorative items, chandeliers and eating utensils.